Interview: Paul Gulacy – From “Sabre” to “Phrenic” Exclusive Art!

Phrenic Clone Assassin banner

Last year we had the good fortune to interview the creators of “Phrenic,” a transmedia thriller that you read, watch, and play. At that time “Phrenic” was a story told primarily through 2-3 minute-long video episodes, an interactive choose-your-own-adventure short story, and other content accessed through the Phrenic iPhone app.  We commented at the time that  a comic book adventure would be a natural fit for the series, perhaps funded by a Kickstarter campaign. The suggestion was not ignored and now an artist for the comic has been chosen.

Paul Gulacy is a trendsetting comic book artist best known for his runs on “Master of Kung Fu” for Marvel, “Catwoman” for DC, and “Star Wars: The Crimson Empire Saga” for Dark Horse. He is currently working on “Phrenic: Clone Assassin,” an interactive web comic enhanced with an alternate reality game (ARG). Pushing the boundaries of how graphic stories are told is nothing new for Gulacy, whose “Sabre” art helped launch Eclipse Comics with an early example of the modern graphic novel format. We were fortunate to steal a few minutes from Paul between deadlines for this brief interview.

Sabre Ad '77

Sabre advertisement circa 1977. Art by Paul Gulacy.

Foes of Reality: Paul, you helped revolutionize the comic book industry when you illustrated the “Sabre” graphic novel. While you were working on the project do you remember any push back about the price, distribution model, or the adult content of the story? Those were all cutting edge in 1978.

Paul Gulacy: In general no, but I was busy doing the work. It doesn’t matter whether the format is a twenty cent comic book for kids or a twenty dollar graphic novel for adults, my job is to tell the story in a visually compelling way. We did hear some minor griping in regards to the interracial romance, but that was about it. It was controversial at that time.

FoR:”Phernic Clone Assassin” is billed as an interactive web-comic and ARG, which is cutting edge for 2014. Do you see any parallels between “Sabre” and “Phrenic” as projects ahead of their time?

Phrenic blurred lines

“Phrenic: Clone Assassin” blurs the lines between narrative and role playing games by introducing an ARG component to the story. Art by Paul Gulacy. Colors by Grace Allison.

PG: I was lucky enough to attend a talk about transmedia, web series, and alternate reality games, all very cutting edge. I was blown away. The interactive nature of the formats seems like the logical next step in entertainment. I think that creators and the audience may develop a more collaborative relationship in the future. It will be interesting to see where “Phrenic” goes, but ultimately my job will remain the same—to tell the story visually to the best of my abilities. This is a look at the future of comics and like “Sabre”, I’m really proud to be a part of it. Find out more at ikillclones.com and hats off to Mike Vogel and Steve Mattsson.

FoR: You have a Wolverine story in just released “Marvel’s 75th Anniversary Celebration” #1. How’d you get invited to that party?

PG: I ran into Len Wein the actual creator of Wolverine at Wonder Con earlier this year. We did a panel together and afterwards I told Len that it would be great to work with him on something someday. Lo and behold Len kept his word and the rest is history. It was a real pleasure and very important to my career. Now if i can only find a copy of the comic somewhere.

FoR: Any other upcoming Paul Gulacy projects that we should be looking forward to?

Wolverine Marvel 75 Anniversary and The Rook Dark Horse

L: A page from the Wolverine story in Marvel’s 75th Anniversary Celebration #1. R: Dark Horse presents the return of time traveler extraordinaire “The Rook” with this exclusive look at page 4. Art: Paul Gulacy. Colorists: L.Rain Bernardo, R. Jesus Aburto.

PG: Right now I’m collaborating with writer Steven Grant, the creator of “2 Guns”, on a total re-vamp of Warren Publishing’s time travelling character, “The Rook”. It’s coming soon from Dark Horse Comics. Very exciting stuff. Totally off the hook, exciting and surprising.

FoR: Thanks, Paul. We look forward to “The Rook” and “Phrenic: Clone Assassin.”

“Phrenic” is available at phrenicworld.com. Be sure to check out the “Phrenic: Clone Assassin” Kickstarter campaign still in progress to help make the interactive comic and ARG happen. To experience how the ARG might be played, text “I need your services” to the Clone Assassin’s phone at 971-717-2850 or to her Twitter handle @ikillclones. Special thanks to Steve Mattsson for his contributions to this post.

Holiday Special: Five Costume Ideas for the Truly Desperate — Halloween 2014

October is well underway and the seeds of autumn are in full bloom. Coffee that tastes like pumpkin pie scented candles wafts its heady aroma from every Starbucks. Giant inflatable Frankenstein monsters billow from the front yards of houses on every block. People dress in shorts and a parka, never quite sure what the temperature will lob at them throughout the day. It’s Fall once again in the Midwest, and Halloween is nearly upon us.

But what’s this? Eddying through the cool northern breezes is the smell of fear. There is only one slender week until Halloween and you’re down to the wire on costume preparations. Again. You’ve got nothing, and that’s trouble. Do you really want to break down and buy a faux hazmat suit so you can be “Ebola Paranoia Guy?” I hope not. Maybe you’re considering become one of the five billion Frozen clones that will be wandering the party circuit this All Hallows’ Eve. Seriously? Please, just don’t.

We’ve seen this trouble before, and we’re here to help. Or mock you. Or maybe a little of both. Once again we’ve spent long hours pouring over awkward family photos for costume ideas so you don’t have to. The selections are in, the die is cast, and now it’s up to you to seize that outstretched Wand of Halloween Creativity and make some magic.

Onward, to the Foes of Reality annual round-up of Five Costume Ideas for the Truly Desperate!

5. Planet of the Apes

Caesar

It was a little difficult to imagine a world with a Planet of the Apes reboot until Rupert Wyatt brought Rise of the Planet of the Apes to theaters in 2011, and again this year with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). Now it’s impossible to escape the story of Caeser and his fellow intelligent apes as the franchise sets the stage for an uncertain future where humanity’s title as Earth’s dominant species is very much in question.

Sadly, for some of us, the humans have already lost:

Planet of the Monkeys

Go ahead. Mess with the monkeys. See where that gets you, you damned dirty apes!

Now you too can pretend to be James Franco and thrill your neighbors with a visit from your own little Caeser. Oh yeah, and those aren’t eggs he’s throwing at people’s houses.

What you’ll need:

Children’s clothes right-sized for your pet monkeys

Pet monkeys

Estimated cost: $2,000+, unless you already have a pet monkey. This may be a determining factor in costume viability.

Many thanks to HugeSlam for their unwitting participation in our anual Halloween antics. You can see more of their fin awkward offerings at  http://hugeslam.com.

4. Frank

It’s probably safe to say the the single most memorable and creepy image from Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001) is that of Frank, the imaginary/pocket universe bunny that advises Donnie at various points throughout the film regarding the impending end of the world and how to stop it from happening. It is difficult to conceive of something more unsettling than mimes or (gulp) clowns wandering around in a sane universe. Somehow Frank rises to the challenge; especially when does stuff like this:

Now it’s all well and good for Frank to be tucked away in a tiny alternate Earth, in a film released more than a decade ago. Any merciful world would keep such madness locked away in the nightmares and delusions of fever dreams. But the world we live in has no such clemency, even at Easter time:

Frank's evil twin

And I thought last year’s Santa Claus was damaging. That child has absolutely no business smiling, unless…is that the feral gleam of lunacy I see in his eyes? I don’t want to think about what I see in the bunny’s eyes.

What you’ll need:

A poorly conceived used Easter Bunny costume, that was previously owned by Lucifer.

Estimated cost: Your soul

Thank you Country 959 in Windsor, Ontario for tossing this fine pic up on the interwebs.

3.Teen Wolf

Teen Wolf

Wait, wasn’t Teen Wolf (1985) an adolescent coming of age comedy starring Michael J. Fox? Well, it was until MTV decided to create a TV series of the same name back in 2011, undoubtedly to ride the crest of Twilight’s vampire/lycanthrope supernatural hunk vibe. So, it only makes sense to replicate that awesome, brooding werewolfy presence in a costume that’s tailor made to catch the eye of a special someone at the Halloween party this year. Get ready girls, your werewolf has arrived…

Teen Wolf too

Hello, ladies.

Granted, the wardrobe is at least half the brilliance of this ensemble. They just don’t make clothes shine like that anymore.

What you’ll need:

Complete disregard for personal grooming

Vintage 1970s wardrobe (optional, but strongly encouraged)

Estimated cost: Free if you go with street cloths, $15 if you plunder Salvation Army for some duds. BUT, this look isn’t going to happen overnight. Only rock this costume idea if you’ve had a flagrant disregard for personal grooming for months in advance or you are a seriously hirsute son of a biscuit. And thank you, piximus.net, for the fine photo selection.

 2. Connor MacLeod

Highlander

We do loves us our crazy 80’s science fiction and fantasy flicks around here, including Highlander (1986), which stands tall on the convictions of its Queen soundtrack alone. Who can resist the urban sword fights between immortals? The lightning struck beheadings? The kilts, man! Don’t you want to go running around your neighborhood in an itchy wool crotch curtain wielding a large sword while screaming, “There can be only one?” Of course you do.

Highlanderish

Wait, wait, wait–is that an angry badger lunging out from the front of that guy’s kilt? And the collared shirt is an interesting choice. Eh, you’re the one who needs a costume. Make it happen.

What you’ll need:

An armless dress shirt

Medieval armament

Angry taxidermy badger

A kilt

Damsel and damselette (included above, but not necessarily recomended)

Estimated cost: Kilt from Target-$14, medieval replica weapon-$90 (pricey) or $5 toy prop (recommended), stuffed badger-$425+ (very pricey) or a cleverly modified carpet remnant and buttons-$15 (recommended), and an old dress shirt-$2 at Salvation Army

1. Rocket Raccoon

Rocket Racoon

All right, this is really more of a prop for a good Guardians of the Galaxy costume than a costume of its own. But let’s make something perfectly clear first; ounce for ounce, Rocket Raccoon is hands down the most awesome character in Guardians of the Galaxy. You don’t have to agree with that assessment, but if you don’t there’s something clearly wrong with you that no amount of therapy is going to fix.

Sadly, no amount of therapy will fix Rocket’s co-creator either, former comic book writer Bill Mantlo. Mantlo has the distinction of writing for just about every Marvel title during the 1970’s in his capacity as fill-in writer, creating back-up stories for various titles so that they would never miss production deadlines for lack of a script in the pipeline. His star continued to rise through the 1970’s and 80’s until 1992, when his career was tragically cut short by a traumatic brain injury sustained from a hit and run accident he suffered while rollerblading.

So it is only fitting that our number one spot this year honors Mantlo and his wonderful character. And getting your own prop Rocket Raccoon couldn’t be easier. Behold:

Rocket Ra-whatthehell

See? How hard is it to find a righteously pissed-off cat? Look at that face. If that’s not a dead ringer for Rocket, I don’t know what is.

What you’ll need:

A Guardians of the Galaxy costume of your choice for yourself (extra points for Groot)

A vitupritively indignant cat (extra points for making the cat indignant by dressing and spray painting it to color-match Rocket)

Bandages. Lots of bandages

Estimated cost: Irrelevant. It’ll be totally worth it. Also make sure to pick up a copy of Mantlo: A Life in Comics for $16.95, proceeds from which benefit Mantlo’s continued institutional care.

Thanks to the excellently-named Sick & Wrong Podcast for sending this stellar pic Googlewards.

There you have it, our annual installment in what we hope to be a long line of Holiday Specials yet to come. Many thanks to all of our unwitting participants in this year’s crop of awkward photos. And the fun is just beginning. One of you has an angry badger to make out of a carpet remnant. That’s not just going to happen of its own accord. Chop chop!

Foes of Reality Coming Off Hiatus

Pull Yourself Together FoR

 

So, you may have noticed that Foes of Reality has been a little light on the posts for the last several months.  Come to think of it, you may have stopped noticing Foes of Reality for the last several months due to a lack of new posts. We have heard the silence and found it awkward.

There are reasons for the lack of production. Major life changes, kitchen remodels, shifts in focus to other writing venues–all of these things and more have taken their toll on our priorities and productivity as creators here at the Foes’ secret underground digital base. The editorial and functional concerns of FoR as a forum for Miranda, Steven, and I have also changed significantly since we first started publishing our ramblings under a shared banner back in July, 2012. None of these tribulations and changes are particularly unique to websites, blogs, or human beings in general. And the truth is that Foes of Reality, like any other creative endeavor, has been evolving since its inception. Sometimes that evolution shows up as an unexpected idea that changes everything. Just as often the changes are marked by days when ideas don’t come as easily. Suddenly getting whacked over the head by inspiration is easy. Surviving the down times between whackings is a challenge.

Those fits and starts have culminated in several changes. It became clear to all three of us that FoR suffered a little in the past from a lack of unified editorial direction. This has lead to creating the role of Managing Editor, which I have volunteered to serve at present. Steven and Miranda remain involved as emeritus members, tackling much of the behind-the-scenes work necessary to keep FoR afloat. All three of us continue to form the core team responsible for moving Foes of Reality forward. Steven is set to begin our transition to a new scrolling format to improve accessibility to readers, particularly on mobile devices. Miranda continues to lend her editorial and promotional skills  to the site as well.

My focus in the days to come will be in bringing new contributors into the fold, as well as defining a more focused editorial direction  without making the site something unrecognizable in the process. Foes of Reality is Foes of Reality. That’s not going to change. But Foes of Reality has also followed a wandering line somewhere between the function of a blog and a traditional news site. We will see if that chemistry can be further refined as is or if it will require some reformulation in the future.

For now, expect to see new articles appearing in the weeks ahead. If you’ve been away for a while, welcome back. If you’re just finding us for the first time, welcome aboard. We’re looking forward to getting this hootenanny back in action.

Best,

Dan Berger
Managing Editor and Eater of Many Carbs

Trade Paperback Review: Saga, Volume One

Saga Volume 1 Post ImageWriter: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.

I’m not a big single comic reader: it’s too much trouble to collect them (I used to… anyone want to buy $500 worth of comics from 1990?), and truth be told, I’m pretty selective. As a result, I spend a lot of time trolling best of lists, in an endless quest to trade getting there first for quality. Saga is no exception: I pulled it from Bleeding Cool‘s top 100 comics and graphic novels of 2013.

Part of the reason I don’t read comics in-the-moment, is that most of them… I just don’t like (does that sound bad?). A good percentage of the writing is fairly juvenile, aimed mostly at boys thirty or more years younger than me. The bottom line is that I’m cool with a bit’o the old “Hulk Smash” now and then, but am cautious with comics that aspire to complex, interesting characters and stories, told with a mixture of illustrations and words. It’s not that I don’t want material like that (I do), it’s that I don’t trust the industry to deliver it, the vast majority of the time.

Without spoilers, Saga, Volume One covers the first story arc: the story of Alana and Marko, two lovers whose relationship – and its result, a little girl named Hazel – represent a threat to their warring planets: Landfall (Alana’s) is driven by technology, and Wreath (Marko’s) is powered by magic. Caught between the two, Alana and Marko are forced to flee.

Saga, Volume One sets up the characters and worlds, as well as the initial conflicts. Though I didn’t at first find the visual style that appealing, it quickly grew on me, as did Alana and Marko. The fact that the birth of their daughter is something that happens in the first panels adds a unique and interesting spin: Alana and Marko aren’t just fugitives in love, they’re new parents, and this is something that colors their actions. Both of them are complex, interestingly drawn characters, and this attention to detail continues throughout, as new characters are introduced. There were a few tropes that I found a little tired, in retrospect – one involving a bounty hunter and a little girl comes to mind – but that doesn’t mean that they were poorly told, just that I wished they had been a little fresher. The world is well-drawn, with hints at a larger universe of characters and plots yet to come; there are touches – a ghost named Izabel, a unique space ship – that speak to Vaughan’s ability to layer additional subplots onto the main storyline, adding depth to the world he and Staples have created.

Saga has enough meat to it that it could have been a stand alone, written story. I try to ask myself, when I read a graphic novel or trade paperback, what’s gained or lost by it being told through pictures and words, rather than just words. In the case of Saga, the story could have been told either way – the visuals are the equivalent, in this case, of written descriptions, but the ideas are all there. I strongly recommend Saga. It’s good storytelling, and I look forward to reading more.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (Review)

Superheroes ANEB Blu-ray cover

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2013)

Format: Blu-ray
Studio: PBS/Ghost Light Films
Run Time: 180 min
Rating: Not Rated
Released: October 15, 2013

 

For over seven decades, superheroes and the comic books they inhabit have endured a cultural journey as fraught and astonishing as their epic adventures in print. At times, the voyage has been one of commercial evolution; from the serializing and sales of superheroes in graphic stories to the merchandising of their larger than life personalities in toys, pajamas, and breakfast cereals, to the explosion of superheroes in television, film, and computer games. At other times, the path has taken comic book creators on an exploration through the struggles and accomplishments of their age — golden, silver, and otherwise. The atomic horrors of World War II, the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s, the terror attacks of 9/11, and the digital democratization of media have been among the many currents in American society that have shaped the people that bring superheroes to life and, in turn, molded those heroes into iconic reflections and meditations of their times.  Like any creative enterprise evolving from popular entertainment to cultural institution, it has taken time for superheroes as agents of culture, and comic books as objects of art, to build a body of work and consistency of reputation worthy of more academic exploration.

The last fifteen years have brought a progressively broadening list of books mapping the history of comics as an art form, the individuals who make them, and the companies publishing them. In 2011, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle previewed at the New York Comic Con as a raw work in progress. In October 2013 the documentary aired on PBS in three one-hour installments, delivering a broad overview of superheroes and their place in America’s larger tale of immigrants, artists, and activists. It was brought to the screen with great anticipation by the Emmy-winning duo of director Michael Kantor and writer Laurence Maslon of 2004’s Broadway: The American Musical.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle explores its subject through a combination of interviews, stock footage, and enhanced comic book panels that “come to life” through the addition of motion, sound effects, and voice-over dramatization. Each of the documentary’s three hour-long episode is introduced and narrated by actor Liev Schreiber (Sabretooth of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)) who, while perhaps not the actor most prominently associated with superhero films, does excellent work talking the audience through the decades of history and dozens of characters, both living and fictional, featured in the film.

Truth, Justice, and the American Way (1938-1958) begins the series by considering the origins of comic books in the Great Depression; a stew of one part newspaper syndicates, one part pulp fiction antecedents, and one part mythology inspired by the immigrant experience. It’s up, up, and away as Superman makes his 1938 debut in Action Comics #1, showcasing the people behind the Golden Age of Comics, from Siegel and Shuster to Kirby and Marston, and the dynamic social forces shaping their world view. The documentary begins with the slim commons of the Depression and a community of young, primarily Jewish immigrants drawn to the industry as a stepping stone on the path to more “serious” careers in the arts. It continues through World War II as comics rapidly ascend in popularity with patriotic themes and the breakout character of Captain America, only to crash back down to earth with the rise of McCarthyism and the  Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings of 1954 that led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority and self-censorship of the industry.

Great Power, Great Responsibility (1959-1977) tackles the resurgence of superheroes in the Atomic Age, when science could just as easily conquer the heavens as turn the planet into a radioactive cinder. With the Golden Age of comics at an end and superhero titles struggling during the early 1960s, Marvel ushered in the Silver Age of comics with the Fantastic Four and the beginnings of the Marvel Universe. If the Golden Age had built superhero archetypes upon the trials and aspirations of the immigrant experience, the Silver Age began to explore the humanity of those archetypes through the lens of real-world problems, from the teenage traumas of Peter Parker’s Spider-man to the atomic wedgie that turns Bruce Banner’s life upside-down as The Incredible Hulk. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby take center stage in this episode, accompanied by the scientific advancements and cultural upheavals that defined the 1960s and 70s, from Moon Missions and Civil Rights marches, to pop-art and the rise of television programming as the dominant source of entertainment. Jim Steranko’s rise as the artistic powerhouse reviving Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. captures the comics increased awareness of and willingness to adopt more sophisticated visual sensibilities even as the Batman television series reflects the disposable popularity of transforming comic book characters into a “phenomenon.”

A Hero Can Be Anyone (1978-Present) tackles the gradual transition of superheroes from the comic book pages to their dominance in film, starting in 1978 with the success of Christopher Reeves as Superman. Once again, DC leads the way with initial domination of the cinematic landscape though the 1980s and into the 1990s with the success of the Superman and Batman franchises. Comics find themselves in a similar state of transition and reinvention as the medium enters what some refer to as its Bronze Age, with the emergence of darker themes and grittier, more violent drama, including Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Innovation blossoms with the rise of independent publishers led by Todd McFarlen’s Image Comics and the Spawn series. The giddy heights peak with the boom of Superman’s death and the bust of his return in comic books, which levels the industry in the early 1990s. But by the late 1990s technology has finally caught up with the visual story-telling of Marvel, starting with the Blade franchise and then surging into all-out box office dominance with the X-Men (2000) and Spider-man (2003), culminating with the 1.5 billion dollar world-wide juggernaut that is Marvel’s The Avengers (2012).

To describe the scope of material covered by Superheroes as “ambitious” is an understatement. The episode capsules above exclude many key creators, cultural movements, and historical events covered over the course of the documentary; from the feminist battle-ground character of Wonder Woman in the late 1960s to post-Nixon America’s suffering through the urban decay of the mid-1970s to the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001. Superheos: A Never-Ending Battle manages to pull the disparate forces shaping the United States together over the last seven decades and demonstrate their relationship with superheroes as equal parts reflection of their times, cultural dialogue, and national mythology.

The documentary also reveals just how muddled the cultural discourse in America becomes after the Golden Age of comics. The narrative flow of the series is at its strongest in Truth, Justice, and the American Way, where the story concerns itself with the rise of superheroes as an extension of the Jewish immigrant experience that organically evolves into a consciousness of and urgency to participate in World War II, followed immediately by the aftermath of the war and the collapse of superheroes in a world that knows all too well what actual heroism looks like. The narrative becomes decidedly more disjointed with Great Power, Great Responsibility as the battlefields turn inward, delving into the moral implications of the Atomic Age as well as the responsibilities of a “free and equal society” at odds with its own not-so-equal cultural conventions and institutions.

The result is that Superheroes is forced to keep up with a flip-book of titanic shifts in “the American Way” and a more tenuously cohesive narrative as culture changes gears from the evolutionary to the revolutionary. The unevenness persists with A Hero Can Be Anyone, only here the narrative twists and turns result from a society growing progressively more distracted by its shortening attention span. The Media Age takes over where the Marvel Age left off, along with the cyclical one-upmanship of progressively more edgy narratives, as superhero stories continue to explore the “realism” buried in their fantastical natures in comic books, television, computer games, and film.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle succeeds in providing a comprehensive overview of superheroes as a uniquely American pop-culture mythology tempered by some of the most convulsive episodes in US history, but the documentary isn’t perfect. Some hardcore comics buffs will prefer a more detailed behind the scenes account of the industry and the stories behind producing specific comics, and less historical and cultural overview of a nation. The semi-animated comic book pages can be a little off-putting for people who prefer the action to come to life inside their own heads rather than at the hands of a digital artist. But these are the kind of minor complaints that are inevitable within any fandom concern.

More concerning is the tendency for the documentary to conflate “the history of superheroes” with “the history of comics” by association. There is, of course, no easy way to talk about superheroes without talking about comic books, and the documentary does allude to other comic book genres. But by leaving the origin of comics out of the narrative, Superheroes: A never Ending Battle provides a look at the comic book industry within an incomplete context, a problem that is further exacerbated by focusing almost exclusively on Marvel, DC, and Image comics – being an independent created by former Marvel and DC artists – rather than the full spectrum of superhero creators. Absent are New England Comics’ The Tick, Caliber Comics’ The Crow, and Mirage Studios’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—all important examples of an eccentric and burgeoning independent superhero comic book scene starting in the 1980s. These and other indies anticipated the garage band ethos pervading today’s internet-based independent comic book producers. Given the importance of the monumental shift in business models across publishing with the emergence of an increasingly legitimate self-publishing culture, the excess of focus on mainstream comics producers is a little difficult to fathom.

Ultimately, there is only so much ground that can be covered in a three hour documentary. With such a vast catalogue of material to draw from, Superheroes carefully chooses its battles and, by and large, chooses them wisely. The film’s value is in its ability to pull together and make sense of such a diverse range of subjects under the banner of superhero comic books, and make it accessible for both those old in the way and casual fans alike. Of equal worth are the many interviews that pepper the documentary, some with people who died before the completion of the project. This is where you will find some of the last musings on comics from Joe Simon, Jerry Robinson, Joe Kubert, and Carmine Infantino, any one of which justifies the price of admission in their own right.

The Blu-ray also includes several bonus segments comprised of interview material that didn’t make it into the documentary, either because of constraints to the film’s running-time or due to the material’s relation with the final shape of the film. This material varies widely, from the odd supplemental curiosity to insightful commentary on the industry to just plain fun. Of particular note is an interview with composer Jack Urbont intercut with him performing the Marvel cartoon theme songs he wrote for The Marvel Superheroes show in 1966. We also hear a few more choice words from Linda Carter, Jules Feiffer, Eddy Friefield, and Micahel Uslan among others.

Anyone curious about the current fuss over superhero films would do well to at least rent Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle from Netflix. For anyone interested in listening to the story of superheroes in the voices of their originators, the Blu-ray is an essential resource well worth purchasing. Sold separately is the companion volume Superheroes: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture, also written by Laurence Maslon. It is a book deserving of its own review. Stay tuned.

William Shatner: Welcome to his “World”

Photo Credit: George Qua-Enoo Photography

Photo Credit: George Qua-Enoo Photography

Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It has taken on a life of its own even as it has taken on the life of its sole performer, the megalithic force of nature called William Shatner. Since it’s Broadway premier at the Music Box Theatre in February of 2012, Shatner’s World has gone on to tour stages around the United States and Canada in the two years since. Its latest stop will be a one-night-only cinematic presentation hosted by Fathom Events, playing in theaters on Thursday, April 24th. Shatner promises, “A Broadway play for the price of a movie ticket,” showcasing his music, humor, and many iconic performances as a television, film, and stage actor.

According to Shatner, the fact that a one-man-play about his life made it to any stage at all is mostly a matter of chance. “I’ve been asked over the years since the last time I’ve been on Broadway to come back and do a play and in some cases a musical,” he said to the press last Friday via teleconference. “I didn’t have that time nor was I willing to leave my home and hearth for that length of time, so I kept turning them down. But there came a point not so long ago when I thought, ‘Well, I guess that’s it for me in Broadway,’ and within months of that came the opportunity to go to Broadway with this show and go to the exact theater where I’d been in my last Broadway play.”

That last play was A Shot in the Dark starring Julie Harris in 1961, an indicator of just how many decades span Shatner’s life and work. At 81 years old, individual portions of his life could easily be adapted into a two-hour stage play all on their own; from his ups and downs as the poster child for Star Trek to his endeavors as an equestrian and breeder of horses to his sometimes unlikely, but ultimately successful turn as a spoken-word musician. Condensing such a long and rich life into 90 to 120 minutes of stage time meant making some hard choices. According to Shatner, “I had to lose some [stories] getting the show ready for Broadway in trying to sharpen it and refine it and reduce it to its ‘supreme moments’ if you will, where it epitomizes everything that I wanted to say, and not just stories, but extraneous words.” To arrive at those supreme moments, Shatner constructed his script around a central theme. “The core of the show was to say ‘yes’ to life, to give this idea that life is precious and it needs to be embraced with both arms and smothered by you because it’s over so quickly,” he said. “So the stories that went along that spine, that fed that core, were the stories I kept.”

Once Shatner found the stories that best fit the show’s central theme, the job of adapting them into a script began in earnest. “I knew that I needed to start with some laughs and I wanted to lure [the audience] into my thought process, but attract [them] first of all by entertaining [them]. So that meant, to me, comedy—and that’s how I started.” From there, he tackled the challenge for creating rhythm and texture in the material through pacing, variance, and juxtaposition of the various story elements. “So much of it was the flow,” he emphasized, particularly in making sure that all parts of his life were represented without any one part dominating or pushing out the others. According to Shatner, “…it took a little palpitating, but it all sort of fell into place.”

The place it fell into was the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, where the material needed to adapt to the demands of live performance. According to Shatner, “As I played the show, I began to understand that the way to make these stories live for the audience was to live the stories; to play them as though they were happening now… and this is the immediacy of the story which gets your attention and keeps you attracted to the words.” At 90 to 120 minutes a night, Shatner’s World has no shortage of words to wrangle. “You’re talking continuously for two hours and trying to remember the words, and then the sequence,” acknowledged Shatner, a reality of which he was acutely reminded after taking some time away from the tour and then returning to it for an impending Las Vegas engagement over three nights this coming June. “So I’m going to have to learn the lines, so that’s a challenge,” and not the only one. The lighting and media elements of the show are all pre-programmed and stored on a hard drive, all of which needs to be reviewed and rehearsed by the technical personnel at each new venue. As Shatner sums it up, “The dint of the words and everything else requires orgasmic expenditure of energy, and you’ve got to be ready for it.”

That energy is something very much in evidence during his performance. At 81 years old, Shatner spends much of the show jogging around the stage, emoting and dramatizing the twists and turns in his life with great zeal. When asked about the source of his unique dynamism, Shatner said, “It’s part of the entertainer’s magic, I guess, but that’s my energy. That comes from my core, and that’s what I bring to you on stage, you the audience. At my best there is a magical link between the audience and me. I feel it, and you feel it, and I’m there for you. We’re having a love affair, the performer and the audience, and I actually feel the embrace and perform to that, and that’s energizing.”

William Shatner takes a rare breather with his co-chair during "Shatner's World." Photo Credit: George Qua-Enoo Photography

William Shatner takes a rare breather with his co-chair during “Shatner’s World.”
Photo Credit: George Qua-Enoo Photography

The great strength of Shatner’s World is the energy of the show’s namesake performer, combined with a healthy dose of humor and a pace that sweeps audiences along without propelling them out of the moment. The story begins with Shatner’s misspent youth in Montreal, where he would sometimes skip class to watch burlesque shows to the detriment of his grades. It was in Canada where he first caught the acting bug. His first five years out of university were spent in repertoire stock theater performing in a play a week for as many weeks out of the year as he was able. “Those plays were written by playwrights so that they would make [Samuel] French’s categories and be rented by theatrical groups across the country,” he remembered. “All they had to do was build one set and fill it with five or six actors and they had a play going. So there was a formula, and I was participating in that formula of the one-set, three-act comedy,” a fertile seeding ground for the humor on display in his current show.

Sometimes the narrative in Shatner’s World loops back on itself or shimmies in unexpected directions, with good reason. Shatner observed, “I’ve had the kind of career that was a slow build. Every time something sensational was going to happen – ‘Oh, this is going to make you a start!’ I’ve heard innumerable times – it didn’t work out that way. But there was this slow wave of attention and activity that actually, I think, climaxes in this one-man show.” As he put it another way, “There was no defining moment, or there was a series of small wavelets building to this tsunami.”

Lurking in the background is a sense of how ephemeral things like a career, fame, and even life itself truly are. Death is a recurring theme within the show, an acknowledgement perhaps that part of saying ‘yes’ to life is making peace with the knowledge that life has an end. “I don’t think, ‘I hope I’m remembered for,’ because I know you’re not remembered for anything, actually,” said Shatner. “The appalling truth that comes to me every so often is that these great names of actors and performers that I grew up with – Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, those actors, Lee J. Cobb – all of the people under the age of fifty say, ‘Who?’” When asked to name the secret of his success as an actor, he responded, “I think luck. Luck is a huge factor in the material way of ‘I was there at the right time, at the right place’ for a particular part or a particular venture. But also luck in the fact that I’ve been healthy,” no small matter for any octogenarian. “I have the energy, the joy of life in me. I haven’t been robbed of it by sickness or fatigue, and so I’m able to challenge myself doing what I’m doing right now.”

Perhaps no other role better illustrates the mercurial strands of fortune weaving through Shatner’s life better than the role of Captain James Tiberius Kirk in Star Trek. It is no exaggeration to say that Star Trek defined Shatner as an icon in both film and television, but not without a flipside. “When Star Trek was over… usually there’s a period of time after a lead in a series is finished before something else happens,” he said, “as though people doing the hiring say, ‘Well, audiences have seen enough of him for a while.’ So that’s what happened to me and what I did was do theatre, and because of personal circumstances I was broke.” Shatner recalls those years between Star Trek original run on television and the Star Trek films as, “…a trying time. I was working, but not making the kind of money I was making in a series, and I was living in conditions that were not commensurate with having stared in Star Trek.”

Even today, Star Trek continues to touch his life in unexpected ways. Shatner related a story from just the day before our teleconference regarding an event at the Salt Lake Comic Con, “Last night a veteran – a young man who had his legs blown off in Iraq – talked about what Star Trek meant to him and how it kept him alive,” he recalled. “I was uncontrollably crying on stage, as was everybody else. When this kid got up and with courage and bravery and passion talked about his sacrifice—it went beyond anything that words can express; and in that moment I felt such a sense of joy that I was able to be a part of this thing that was able to help him and his buddies and other people through the years. It was so moving; it made Star Trek come alive even more vividly.”

More than any of his past or present roles, as T. J. Hooker, Denny Crane, or the ubiquitous Priceline Negotiator, it is clear that William Shatner sees Shatner’s World as his legacy achievement. “I’m very much aware of how ephemeral fame is,” he acknowledged, “but this moment in time of April 24th and the one-man-show and the fact that I toured it and the fact that I wrote it and—in effect—staged it, I mean this is my creative self being invested in everything. I filmed it. I got it financed. Everything about this thing I did with the help of people I hired. It, to me, is a legacy that I want to hand my kids. ‘Here, take this DVD and, when I’m dead, play it, because this is who your father and grandfather is.’”

Then again, perhaps Shatner’s greatest achievement has yet to come. “What is exciting to me now is the next book or the next film or the next television show,” he said. “I’m inventing all the time. The day before yesterday I was at a creative meeting at a network about new shows that I want to do, and I came up with a couple of ideas that were very funny and very good and they sparked at it, and that to me was the fire that keeps me burning—that creativity, inventing new things and somebody responding to it. That drives me.”

In the end, one gets the sense that, for Shatner, the point is in the doing as much as the end result. “Being a performer, once the performance is over, it’s gone,” he said. “It’s in the ether somewhere and may just as well have not happened. So the next night is the next challenge, and it’s a challenge of many kinds. It’s a challenge of re-doing that performance that only you can remember from last night and doing it today. It’s a challenge also of whether there’ll be an audience. The actor’s remorse is, ‘I’m going to do a performance tonight. I hope an audience will be there.’”

So far, audiences haven’t failed him yet. When asked about the highlight of his journey through the process of bringing Shatner’s Worlds to thousands of fans across the United States and Canada, he answers without hesitation, “…at the end of the evening. I think I’m safe in saying that at every performance I’ve done, the people have stood up and applauded and the emotion that comes over the footlights between me and the audience has moved me to tears many times. There is an affection at the end of the evening that is palpable, and that truly is the highlight for me.”

On Thursday evening, audiences in theaters across the United States will have their chance to enjoy Shatner’s magic for themselves.

Shatner’s World will be appearing for one night only in theaters this Thursday, April 24th. Check Fathom Events for ticket information, theaters, and showtime. Special thanks to Mr. Shatner for making the time to answer our many questions.